Sketchbook Sneak Peek: Aaron Becker


One of the beautiful things about sketchbooks is their ability to take you into a world of your own creation, a place where your imagination can run wild and even the sky is no limit. As a young boy growing up in Baltimore, Aaron Becker became attuned to this notion early on. “Like many American boys born in the wake of the Apollo missions,” he writes in his website’s bio, “I decided early on I would be an astronaut.” After deciding that these dreams might be more work than he had originally anticipated, however, Becker shifted his sights from the cosmos to crayons—creating art that was as otherworldly and exotic as the places he once dreamed of traveling.

Over the past several years, Becker has honed his skill for imaginative world-creation as a designer for the film industry, creating preliminary concept drawings for such films as The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol, Mars Needs Moms, and Pixar’s Carstoons series. This past summer, Becker’s first children’s book was released. Aptly titled Journey, the wordless book tells the story of a young girl who draws a magical door onto her bedroom wall and is transported to a world of eye-popping wonder. A sort of updated Harold and The Purple Crayon (albeit on a much grander, more lavish scale), the newly published volume is already receiving stupendous accolades—The New York Times called the book “a masterwork.”

Aaron’s sketchbooks are, as with his first children’s book, like diving into a whole new world. With exacting, fine-tipped sketches laid out in paneled narratives, these preliminary drawings tell stories of their own—they provide insight into  Becker’s creative mind, the meticulousness of his craft, and the process through which he constructs his dazzling landscapes. Continue after the jump to take a look at more of Aaron Becker’s sketches and read what he has to say about the art of sketchbook-keeping. —Max



Above images: The cover and a few select pages from Aaron Becker’s Journey.

Why do you use a sketch book?

For one, it’s portable.  And of course, it’s far more fun than an iPad.

What are your go-to sketch book supplies? Are there any brands or media that you’re particularly drawn to?

My favorite sketchbooks have toned paper, on which I can paint gouache or colored pencils to really punch out the brights from the predominating dark line-work.  When it comes to line, I tend to gravitate towards inky pens. When I use pencils, I like starting with a blue colored pencil, adding a 2H, and finishing things off with a 2B.  I’ve always admired artists who have specific brands of paints, brushes, and pens they’re drawn towards—I think I figured as an art student that it would just take time to realize those preferences, and that once I had my favorites all lined up, I’d be a “real” artist.  But it didn’t work out that way for me. I’m happy picking up anything that makes a mark, though I’ll stop at blue ink. For some reason, I can’t abide it.

Aside from preliminary sketches for larger projects, are there any things that you like to sketch just for fun? What are some things that you most frequently fill your sketch books with?

I used to love using rubber cement to create a scrap book of memorabilia and clippings from which I might cull inspiration.  But I’ll admit that these days I’m far too busy with my work and I tend to use my sketchbook solely for thumbnail sketches and writing.  Occasionally, pages will sink into the desperate territory of the to-do list, which always breaks my heart.  I was showing my earlier sketchbooks to a high school art student the other day and realized how much I need to get back into doing the more fun stuff.  There’s no replacement for that effort and time, especially for generating fresh ideas and staying in touch with the love of mark-making.

sketchbook_aaronbecker_2 sketchbook_aaronbecker_3 sketchbook_aaronbecker_4 sketchbook_aaronbecker_5 sketchbook_aaronbecker_6 sketchbook_aaronbecker_7 sketchbook_aaronbecker_8 sketchbook_aaronbecker_9 sketchbook_aaronbecker_10 sketchbook_aaronbecker_11 sketchbook_aaronbecker_12 sketchbook_aaronbecker_13 sketchbook_aaronbecker_14

  1. Katie says:

    That’s an impressive sketch book. Thanks for introducing us to Aaron. Great work!

  2. Katie says:

    Beautiful work! There’s something so intimate and endearing about an artist’s sketchbook. I could look at the sketches all day. Thank you for this peek into the artist’s process.

  3. Lauren says:

    Wow! Gotta love a well lived-in sketchbook. Wonderful!

  4. Nicole says:

    Love Aaron’s sketches! Very technical, yet imaginative. Very inspiring! I love that tonal paper–what is the brand? Keep up the great work! :)

  5. Jemia says:

    These are beautiful. Inspiring.

  6. Danielle says:

    I am really enjoying this segment on DS. I hope they keep introducing new artists and sketchbooks every week/other week!

  7. Adriana says:

    I love him! I was actually scanning and working with his artwork for a new book as part of my internship this summer. If possible, his work looks even better in person

  8. mahasitha says:

    The best article of the week! Very inspiring for me as an aspiring illustrator

  9. Christy says:

    It totally spoke to me when you talked about pages sinking “into the desperate territory of the to-do list”. I find that when that to-do list starts formulating in my mind I begin feeling overwhelmed rather than creative. I definitely need to start keeping my sketch book close by so that ideas stay fun and fresh!

  10. amazing – just the dose of inspiration i needed this morning

  11. Allison says:

    Everything I start to write sounds like a cliché. This is better than any words I have. Thank you and keep these coming, please.

  12. What an amazing behind-the-scenes look. I love that we can see your sketch book. Fantastic pictures. Love it.

  13. Eva says:

    Wow, amazing. Thanks for the introduction. I didn’t know his work.


Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.